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I imagine there will be many who dispute the characterization of
"Impact" as film noir, and I can't blame them. It's not photographed in
typical noir fashion, to be sure, but its themes are definitely in the
noir neighborhood. There is a stark contrast between the murderous
doings in San Francisco (and on the road), and the pastoral joys of
Larkspur, Idaho--a contrast that is emphasized by the score, which
favors harp and flute for Larkspur and dramatic strings, or even
complete silence, for the rest of the film.
Brian Donlevy turns in a solid performance as the loving husband and successful industrialist who discovers his beloved wife is scheming with a lover to kill him; the scene where he breaks down after realizing this is more than solid, and reveals a depth of emotional understanding that Donlevy rarely showed, or at least got the chance to show. Helen Walker is just tremendous as the scheming wife, whose lightning-fast wit helps her transfer the murder rap from herself to her husband, despite her surprise at his being alive at all.
Charles Coburn slips in and out of an Irish brogue as the detective who suspects Walker and supports Donlevy, even at the expense of undercutting the D.A.'s case. Anna May Wong has a small role that emphasizes how the years have worn on her since her beautiful turn in "Shanghai Express." Philip Ahn has an even smaller role as Wong's uncle, who responds to Coburn's condescending query, "You savvy English?" with an urbane "Yes. Also French, Italian, and Hebrew" (reminiscent of his character years earlier in "Something to Sing About").
The plot gets a little convoluted, and the triumphant ending may seem like a bit of an anticlimax, but "Impact" should still be better known than it is.
Whoever likes movies of the late Forties should not miss this one. It tells
a typical film noir story that is coherent and easy to understand. Impact is
a quite artful picture, obviously made by first rate professionals. The
balance between location shooting (mainly in and around San Francisco) and
the extraordinarily stylish sets is in my opinion perfect and well thought
out. At the center of the story is the attempted killing of the main
character by his wife's lover. The car with the two men drives at night
along a sinuous mountain road. It slows down and stops because of a flat
tyre. As the viewers already know, this is the spot where the murder should
take place. With unbelievable ease the natural surroundings (reminding you
of the dramatic climax in Hitchcock's Family Plot) change into an almost
expressionistic stage set with artificial fog at the bottom and everything.
It is an unforgettable moment. What the film people could achieve in those
Brian Donlevy has some very good moments. As after a phone call he fully realises that his wife who he naively loved (calling himself "Softy" in his messages to her) had cheated and betrayed him, he stumbles to a bench on a station platform, stares into the void with dim eyes and then starts crying with rage and frustration. The scene takes almost a minute and proves that Donlevy is a much underrated actor who should be honored more.
Apart from the realistic presentation of parts of San Francisco in the late Forties (it complements Welles impressions in Lady from Shanghai"), Impact has some nice pieces of slang (at least to a foreigner whose mother tongue is not English). "Grovel a shuteye" for "taking a nap", that's nice, isn't it?
Although there are some flaws in this film, I rate it a 10 for the best ever Film Noir if for no other reason than I've watched it over and over for 55 years. The 2005 smash hit TV show LOST is themed in the concept of renewal, as is "IMPACT." Thinking he has a perfect life, Brian Donlevy will soon find out he's standing on a mountain of betrayal. He'll go from being a top level businessman (with an apartment on Nob Hill, at the building across from the Fairmont Hotel, the one with the walled in parking lot out front, where everybody in San Francisco film noirs lived in the 1950's... Never mind!) Anyway, as he recovers from the daze of attempted murder he'll accidentally stumble upon a new and quite different life, one that most any of us could enjoy. Then come the hard choices..... I first saw this movie on a single day booking at the Silver Theatre at age 11. What stuck in my mind after seeing it is that if life ever went sour to the point of contemplating suicide, a wise alternative might be a fake suicide --- followed by a renewed and drastically different second life, as in this movie. There was no suicide, fake or otherwise, in this picture; but I thought that was a healthy idea to place into a young viewer's mind; whether intended or not. Then there's Ella Raines. Hmm! Friends, forget Marilyn Monroe or any of the other 1950's sexpots. Keep Marilyn, do what you like, I don't care. Just introduce me to Ella Raines. Pretty, thin, lithe, smart. Yum!
A good example of a little known "film noir," this 1949 film was shot
primarily on location in San Francisco.
There is good acting all around, from the main stars down to supporting cast, and the plot does tie together nicely.
Look for Mae Marsh, a silent film star who plays Ella Raines mother, and also look for a brief cameo appearance by syndicated columnist and radio personality Sheila Graham, playing herself of course.
Brian Donlevy, who made similar "noir" films, among them D.O.A., appears to be right at home in this film, and is wonderful in an understated way.
The film, at almost 2 hours in length was a bit long for the time, and might drag a bit, but is worth watching.
Anna Mae Wong plays the maid in this film, an old time character actress from the days of silent films, she has a small but all important role in the film, for she holds the key (literally) to how the whole movie ends. Listen for some degrading Chinese music when Ms. Wong is on the run.
Interesting note, Helen Walker who plays the scheming wife in the film, was involved in a major scandal of her own. On New Years Eve, 1946, she was driving home some hitchhiking soldiers near Redlands, California. Walker, apparently drunk at the wheel, got into a car accident in which one of the soldiers was killed and the other two badly injured. Though in the end exonerated of any guilt from the accident, it seemed to plague her for the rest of her life, and she slipped deeper and deeper into depression.
I am a true believe that the best films that Hollywood ever produced
came from the 1940s. Whether it was in the early 40s like the film
Gaslight or later like Lean's Great Expectations, I have never seen so
many great stories with so much originality, humanity, and creativity.
Impact is no different. What transformed this picture from your typical
film-noir thriller into a full-fledged murder/mystery is not just the
creative story, but also the strong characters, the twisting themes,
and the questionable ending. Impact could not have been as fascinating
as it was if it were not for the impressive story. From the opening
scene, we think that we have this film already pegged as your typical
"wife cheats on man and he now wants revenge" story, but as director
Arthur Lubin guides us further down his diabolical path, we learn that
there is going to be more surprises than we originally anticipated.
These surprises will not only lock your jaw in a shocked position, but
it will also provide 111 minutes of pure uncut film-noir.
I have read other reviews that claim that Impact does not fall within the typical film-noir genre. I see where they are saying this, but I do not agree. Lubin, I believe, was creating a classy film-noir for his audience, but he tricked us. He not only tricked us from the beginning of the film to the end, but also where the film-noir style should be placed. We assume that the because Brian Donlevy is our centralized character that he has to be the dark and brooding one the entire time, causing the sensation of film-noir. I saw this film in a different light. As Lubin kept Donlevy in the eye of the camera for most of the film, I thought that the true sinister, dark, brooding, spooky, and edgy character was Irene. Helen Walker did a superb job with this role. Not only did she portray the backstabbing wife with such precision and ease, but she also played this very strong character that I was not expecting. That sensation of film-noir with the themes of suspicion, anxiety, and pessimism are all collected well within Walker's portrayal of Irene. It is this character that fully embodies the idea of film-noir, and I couldn't keep my eyes off her the entire film. To see such a powerful female character in such an early age of Hollywood impressed me. I do not see why Impact has not made a bigger impression in the film communities. It is a landmark film that will keep you guessing in a better way than any Shyamalan film will.
Even if you cannot agree with me about Lubin's slight of "film-noir" hands, it is unmistakably true that Impact contains some of the best story coupled with acting that we have seen in quite a long time. Even in today's Hollywood you just do not see this type of intensity, excitement, and curiosity as you found in Impact. I would not be surprised if we eventually saw a remake of this film in the future. It has all the elements that one would desire to be a box-office sensation; an evil wife, a passionate husband, and a dark secret. Who wouldn't love to see this? I personally could not keep my eyes off the story or the actors in this film. Brian Donlevy was beyond normal as the disarmed man facing the truth that his wife is no longer in love with him. This being my first Donlevy film, I cannot wait to see other pieces of his work. I think he was both strong and weak enough to carry the picture. He had to show that he still loved his wife, no matter what she did, and he pulled it off with so much dedication that I nearly wanted to stand up and clap for him in my living room. I have already spoken on Irene, who I believe matched Donlevy straw for straw. Lubin needed a character that was going to counter Donlevy's like-ability, and Helen Walker did just that. As audience members, we wanted to love her and hate her at the same time. Ella Raines was nothing spectacular, but did bring this light pro-feminism theme into this light film-noir thriller. Tony Barrett was the epitome of evil; never breaking character and always making me feel slimy. My personal favorite character was Lt. Tom Quincy. I have seen many parodies when they would use the southern flatfoot, but I had never seen a film that utilized this cliché character. Impact did it and Charles Coburn perfected it. As he attempted to solve the crime, he used the vice of kindness and dedication, making this critic smile with delight. He carried the truth of this film on his back without any struggle at all.
Overall, I thought that Impact was yet another great film that I can attribute to the 1940s. I don't know who the brains were during this cinematic time, but I wish I could go back and shake their hands. Their imagination, ability to keep audiences guessing, as well as produce great "B" level actors giving more than 100% of their abilities to a film is nearly impossible to find today. I would have loved to live during this era and see these films in the smoky auditoriums packed with untouched minds. Impact was nearly flawless. I guess it dragged sometimes, and the ending seemed to be wrapped up a bit too quickly (again, the happy factor wasn't needed at the end), but this film kept my attention throughout. I cannot wait to show this movie to friends and family. To fully see where we get our ideas for our films in the year 2006, we must make sure that we respect the films from the 1940s. Impact should be at the top of every film enthusiast's list!
Grade: ***** out of *****
Although the final third gets in the way and is finally disappointing,it does not keep "impact" from being absorbing and entertaining.One of the rare film noirs -maybe the only one - which takes a look on the brighter side of the road:sandwiched between two very dark parts,the second one has Capra accents:the country town is some Shangri-la where time stood still ,with its very nice people ,the girl who owns a garage but of course does not know anything about mechanics(woman's lib supporters will cringe),the young father proud of his new-born son ,the Sunday service,the old lady cooking tasty little dishes.All of this is unusual in a film noir.Some might say that "shadow of a doubt"(1942) had already that ,but evil could enter this world,as the heroine 's uncle came to town.Here,the evil is elsewhere ,in San Francisco.Only in San Francisco.Or on the dark road where anything can happen:first part is effective,and shows some "Postman always rings twice" (1946) influence.
An underrated, understated, nicely stylized, and tightly constructed film noir. The director, Arthur Lubin, is a B-movie figure (with a lot of films to his name), and I'm going to guess just from this one that there are others in the history that are very good. This has been running the noir circuits for a long time, and is especially noteworthy. The photography by Ernst Laszlo is especially helpful, and with some smart editing it makes for a visually terrific movie.
But the acting is great, too. Yes, everyone fills some familiar roles for this kind of upper crust murder and cover up, but it's tightly done, convincing throughout. Brian Donlevy is a fabulous (and typically Donlevy) industrialist who has to take on a second identity for part of the film, and it's a great surprise. The two lead women, both the same age (29), and both with short careers, play two very different types of women that the industrialist bounces between. The first, Helen Walker, is the clever, rich wife. The second, Ella Rains, is the homespun girl who wants only for everything to turn out okay. (Rains was a Howard Hawks discovery, and with her classic clean cut looks, even made it on the cover of Life Magazine twice, on February 28, 1944 and August 11, 1947.)
One other character whose performance is sterling is Charles Coburn, playing the aging detective. A lesser role, but from a remarkable actress, is the maid, played by Anna May Wong (who got stereotyped in the movies but who is now increasingly appreciated as the first major Chinese-American actress).
Yes, this is a great film for film buffs, and a really good story for everyone. Make sure you have a clean DVD transfer to appreciate the photography (see http://www.dvdbeaver.com/film/DVDCompare10/impact_.htm for some info on that kind of thing).
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It's unfortunate that this film doesn't have more of a reputation. Had
it not been for a four movie DVD compilation from Diamond
Entertainment, I would never have come across it. The story involves a
scheming wife out to murder her husband, a plot that backfires when her
lover botches the job and winds up dying himself in a fiery crash.
Poetic justice there, but the follow up is where things get
interesting, as jilted protagonist Walter Williams (Brian Donlevy)
spends his time trying to sort things out while keeping his real
identity a secret.
Helen Walker turns in a strong performance as the two faced Irene Williams, a character you'll love to hate as the story progresses. She showed she could think on her feet when being tailed by a detective and when her husband unexpectedly shows up after his three month disappearance. It's somewhat of a surprise then when one of the 'keys' to her undoing winds up in her coat pocket.
I couldn't quite warm up to the romance between Williams and would be mechanic Marsha Peters (Ella Raines). Even in her garage gear she's an absolute knockout, and to be smitten with Donlevy's character seemed to be a bit of a stretch. Fortunately though, she had the tenacity and energy to team up with Detective Clancy (Charles Coburn, not that one, the other one). Credit Clancy with the suitcase connection that finally unhinged Mrs. Williams' story.
Everything about the late 1940's settings works well, from the busy streets of San Francisco to the bucolic trappings of Larkspur, Idaho. My own home town had the same type of fire department signal system used in the story while I was growing up, so that was a neat memory. I'm sure younger viewers will have no idea what the 'Klondike 2' telephone number is all about, and when was the last time your cab ride cost $1.15?
Throughout "Impact", I couldn't help drawing comparisons with another noir flick from a few years earlier, 1945's "Conflict" starring Humphrey Bogart and Sydney Greenstreet. In that one, the scheming partner in a murder plot is the husband (Bogey), and the deed is done on top of a winding mountain road. It's got a clever twist that trips up the bad guy without using a trunk full of evidence. Both films suggest that some of the best noir efforts of the '40's and '50's had single word titles.
Donlevy is a cuckolded husband whose wife and lover plan to kill him. Things go wrong and it is the wife's lover who dies in a fiery wreck, allowing Donlevy to assume a new identity as the mechanic for a garage owner who looks like a supermodel. After recovering from his temporary amnesia, he plans to watch his wife "get what she deserves" by waiting to come out until after she's in jail for murder (whose? I can't remember! But it all makes sense in the movie, believe me, it's just very twisted!). When he finally does come out, all big heart, she accuses HIM of her lover's murder! Good suspense, character acting, photography, with a lively pace. It's hard to figure out how talking animal movie specialist Lubin managed to pull this one off so well, but it will send me looking for other movies along this same vein by the director.
In San Francisco, the successful self-made businessman Walter Williams
(Brian Donlevy) has just bought three factories in Denver with the
approval of the board of directors. His beloved wife Irene (Helen
Walker) tells him that she is not feeling well to travel with him, and
asks Walter to give a lift to her cousin Jim Torrance (Tony Barrett).
On the highway, Jim, who is actually Irene's lover, tries to kill
Walter hitting his head and throwing him in a cliff, and has a fatal
accident while escaping driving Walters's car. Walter is considered
dead and later his wife is sent to jail accused of plotting his murder.
Meanwhile, the wounded Walter sleeps in a moving van and awakes in
Larkspur, a small town in Idaho. He is hired as a mechanic in a gas
station by the owner, Marsha Peters (Ella Raines). For three months,
Walter reads the news, expecting revenge with Irene sentenced to death,
and he and Marsha fall in love for each other. When Walter discloses
the truth to Marsha, she convinces him to return to San Francisco and
save his unfaithful wife. The situation changes when Irene accuses him
of plotting to kill her lover Jim, and Walter has to prove his
"Impact" is a great film-noir, with a melodramatic story full of twists. Helen Walker is perfect in the role of a cynical femme fatale, and Ella Raines is extremely beautiful and efficient in her role. Brian Donlevy performing a character of twenty-five years old is miscast. This is the greatest flaw in the screenplay, since he was a successful man that had worked for ten years as a worker and than reached a supervisory position. How could he be so powerful executive with this age only? Considering Walter Williams a man of forty and something years, the story becomes credible. This excellent unknown movie hooks the attention until the very last scene. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "Impacto" ("Impact")
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